Neighborhood Scenes

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tv2In Martvch 1974, a band called Television — Tom Verlaine, Richard Hell, Richard Lloyd, and Billy Ficca — played both their very first show (at Townhouse Theater on W 44th) as well as their first gig, a few weeks later, at a dive country and bluegrass bar on the Bowery recently renamed CBGB + OMFUG. They were not a country or bluegrass band. Within months CBGB had become a mecca for new music, underground rock and roll by New York’s unsigned bands, including The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and the Patti Smith Group. This is where punk rock was born.

Several events this week commemorate punk’s 40th anniversary:

Thursday, March 20, 7 pm, at The Strand, 828 Broadway: Richard Hell in conversation with Bryan Waterman, marking the pbk release of Hell’s autobiography, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp. [open to public]

Thursday, March 20, 6pm, third floor, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South New York University’s Fales Library and Special Collections presents the GoNightclubbing Video Lounge, a multi-media installation curated by Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong paying tribute to the infamous Danceteria Video Lounge, which they created in 1980. [open to public]

Friday, March 21 through Sunday, March 23, 11 am to 1 pm, Silver 401, NYU: “Punk and the City,” a three-day seminar as part of the annual American Comparative Literature Association meetings. Twelve presenters on a range of related topics, from Latin American punk to Pussy Riot. [registration fees apply]

so so glosSaturday, March 22, 7 pm, Great Hall at Cooper Union: Punk Turns Forty: A Plenary Sponsored by the American Comparative Literature Association and the Fales Library. Part I: Brandon Stosuy, editor at Pitchfork, interviews Richard Hell; Part II: Avital Ronell moderates a panel with Vivien Goldman, Kathleen Hanna, and Tamar-kali. [Free admission at 6:30 for ACLA conference attendees and at 7:00 for the general public, as space allows]

Saturday, March 22, 10:30 pm doors, Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South: So So Glos, with Household and Arm Candy, a concert to benefit Silent Barn. [$5-$10 sliding donation; all-ages]

Sunday, March 23, 5 to 8 pm, The Panther Room at Output, 74 Wythe Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn: Classic Album Sundays presents Television’s Marquee Moon. Presenter: Bryan Waterman, author of Marquee Moon (33 1/3 series). [Tickets: $10 at the door or online here]

 

 

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Dinosaur, “Kiss Me Again,” 12-inch, side A, 1978. Composed by Arthur Russell. Remix by Jimmy Simpson.

The personnel for this record blows my mind:

Arthur Russell (cello, organ)
David Byrne (guitar)
Sammy Figueroa (percussion)
Frank Owens (piano)
Henry Flynt (violin)
Peter Gordon (sax)
Larry Saltzman (guitar)
Peter Zummo (trombone)
Myrian Valle (vocals)

The Henry Flynt finale is an especially rewarding touch, & it’s kind of thrilling to hear him — and Byrne — on the same record as Russell, Gordon, & Zummo.

See Tim Lawrence’s richly detailed Hold On to Your Dreams, pp. 130-37, for an account of this record’s origins. Find a download link here.

Previously. And.

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For the past couple summers I’ve taught two versions of the same course, though with separate titles and a few tweaks that suggest multiple possibilities for ordering the material we examine. The undergrad version of the course is called Downtown Scenes, 1960-1980. It grew out of a lecture I’ve given several times in the Writing New York course Cyrus and I have taught since 2003. I also used this more specific course — which is a 2-week summer intensive, meeting 4 hours/day for 10 days — to help me prep for writing about Television’s Marquee Moon. The grad version of the course is called Literature in the Age of Warhol. It also focuses primarily on the downtown scene in the 60s and 70s, though in this version Warhol is more pronounced as a defining figure in the era. The first time I taught the undergrad version, Ginsberg emerged as a link between several of our readings. Here are a few links to prior material on the blog, especially about Ginsberg.

So is there something more to be said here about defining these decades variously as an Age of Ginsberg or an Age of Warhol? (For what it’s worth, I think we’re still living in the latter.) Are there other figures you’d suggest had as strong an impact on underground literary and artistic subcultures? I’m just waiting for either one of these fellows to get a cameo on Mad Men.

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As Annie announced on Tuesday, she and I will be posting Q&A’s with our Networked New York conference panelists over the next few weeks.  Speakers will elaborate on their work and questions the conference raised for them. Next up: Marvin Taylor, the Networked NY keynote speaker and Director of the Fales Library & Special Collections at NYU.

In your keynote, you emphasized that the Downtown Collection embraces materials that defy conventional “archival” designation and that in doing so, offers a model for how libraries, museums and other cultural institutions might relate more productively to one another.  Can you elaborate on the kinds of interpretive or categorical flexibility you’ve internalized or identified with the Downtown Collection?  What insights has it generated about defining “the archive” that might be applied more broadly?

There are two common processing strategies for archival materials: the literary and the historical. The literary model emphasizes the construction of literary works and the importance of biography to literary interpretation. These collections tend to be personal papers of authors, “personal papers” being the term for individual’s collections and “archives” the term for organizational papers. The literary model organizes materials according to various “series” or groups of like materials such as journals, diaries, correspondence, manuscripts, photographs, audio, video, etc. The emphasis in processing is on the draft versions of manuscripts that ostensibly show the process of the creation of a literary work. The historical model tends to be chronological and to look at the “great names” of history as a means of determining which correspondents, for instance, are more important than others when it comes to level of detail in “processing,” i.e. organizing and describing the collections. These traditional models do not work for artists’ papers, for instance—and perhaps never really worked all that well for literary and historical collections.  Artists work in very different ways. Objects are much more common in their creative process and serve as source materials. Traditionally, archives have shied away from collecting non-paper-based materials because of storage, lack of preservation expertise, and difficulty in describing such items. Of course, this is a prejudice within the epistemology of library and archival practice that is self-perpetuating. The same rationale removes all media from its context within a collection and all photographs to separate divisions of archives, if the materials are even collected in the first place.

At Fales we process all the materials from an artist’s collection together in the “finding aid” so that the intellectual organization of the artist’s materials is maintained. We separate the materials for storage, of course, but we are committed to maintaining the artist’s intellectual organization. My favorite example is David Wojnarowicz’s Magic Box. [See photo]. Wojnarowicz kept this old orange crate under his bed and didn’t tell anyone about its meaning, even his partner, Tom Rauffenbart. It contains about 80 objects, including a primate skull painted Klein blue, a plastic dog, a cloth snake, a metal globe, a crucifix, and other various objects. If you know Wojnarowicz’s work, you find physical representations of his set of symbols and metaphors that he uses in his painting, photography, films, and writing in the box. This is the very kind of thing that most archives would not accession or would refer to as “realia” and not describe in any detail. For me, the Magic Box is essential to understanding Wojnarowicz’s artistic practice and central to the collection. We borrowed descriptive methods from museum practice to accession each object in the box as a part of the whole, so there is a number for the box itself, a “parent record, and each object within it has a number as a “child.” We are able to blend these styles of description because of the flexible nature of Encoded Archival Description (EAD) that is used now as a standard to create finding aids. For me, each time I bring in a collection that confounds typical archival practice, I am reminded that libraries and archives are grand narratives of culture that impose the epistemology of their time onto materials rather than merely describing those materials. Downtown art questioned these structures of culture. Downtown collections query the library and archive in the same way. To adequately represent downtown work, I have to constantly be careful not to let the systems of the library and archive undermine the disruptive qualities of downtown work. This disruption that downtown work causes should make us look at all library and archival systems for their inherent modes of power and control.

Your talk included two especially striking phrases. First, described the Downtown Collection as offering a “genealogy of outsider practice.”  You also talked about needing to see punk’s shaping of the downtown scene as a geography and a metaphor.  Beyond the beauty of their language, these phrases also get at the heart of how the Downtown Collection re-imagines the cultural work that archives can do.  Can you say more about what these phrases mean to you?

I hope I didn’t say “punk’s shaping of the downtown scene as a geography and a metaphor.” What I meant to say is that I see the Downtown Scene as both a geographic and a metaphorical space. Punk would be a subset of the larger culture of that time period. I have never hidden the fact that I admire critical theory. I find literary work that does not engage with it unsatisfying. At the same time, I detest literary work that is jargon-ridden and intentionally obtuse. Time and again I have found that the work of the post-structuralists is very helpful to me as a librarian who thinks about the larger philosophical issues of how knowledge is created, how it is structured, how it is documented, how we collect it, how and what we preserve, and how power is displaced across time in the preservation of knowledge. The process of accreditation that libraries maintain is rarely questioned, but it should be. The post-structuralists taught us how to look at master narratives, interestingly, none of them looked at the library as such a structure. I’ve spent a lot of time doing just that. I found that special collections and rare book libraries were one of the most conservative and most heavily politicized places in library history. Book collecting and connoisseurship go hand in hand. Many people think of rare book and manuscript libraries as the lofty heights, off-limits to ordinary students, where only the most seasoned scholars are allowed through the locked doors. This was not the kind of special collection I envisioned. I wanted to document cultural moments as completely as possible so that whatever critical fad was in fashion, there would be resources for students and faculty to use for primary research. The downtown scene provided me with the perfect subject matter for just such a project. It also had the benefit of being our “neighborhood” collection and of supporting departments as varied as performance studies, American studies, drama, photography, English, art history, museum studies, and a host of others. To get around the connoisseurship model I devised a strategy for collecting that was based, in part, on geography. Anything that happened in downtown NYC, that is, below 14th Street, was game for acquisition. Of course, not everything below 14th Street was really “downtown” material, so some things that were not a part of the various scenes has been left out. (Post-twelve-tone chamber opera, for instance, didn’t make the cut.) And many things that are not downtown geographically are very “downtown.”  Think Dennis Cooper’s papers. So, my vision of downtown is primarily a geographically centered one that also has a metaphorical component. Anyone sharing the same sets of concerns as downtown artists might be included in the downtown collection, even if they were not primarily involved in the scene. The archive, as I conceive of it, can comprise much more cultural material than has traditionally been the case. And it should. Archives should be catalysts for change.

 Given your experiences with the Downtown Collection and other collections at Fales, what parts of the story would you say scholars sometimes miss when they use archives to tell the stories of subversive artistic or creative networks? Where should we be directing our attention? 

Archives are the fossil evidence of human experience. They are necessarily stripped of the quotidian context in which they were originally embedded. The practical, the daily, the mundane aspects of a person’s life may not be evident from the remains of their artistic practice, but they may be incredibly important to a more complex understanding of the artist’s life, work, and the broader cultural milieu in which he or she lived and worked. My best example is not from downtown, but from the scholarship on Oscar Wilde. Richard Ellmann’s monumental biography of Wilde is a thoroughly researched and masterfully written authoritative tome. There is one major part of Wilde’s life that Ellmann neglected to research thoroughly enough: his daily writing for Women’s Day—his day job. The archival materials about this are at the Henry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin. I find it very interesting, for instance, that Wilde may have been the first person to write about women’s fashion as an expression of “lifestyle” instead of merely discussing dresses and current fads. It seems to me perfectly aligned with his own self-fabrication and with the theme of self-created personalities that runs throughout his work. One can conjecture that Ellmann found the story of Wilde’s queerness in sexual terms, more interesting and more important for the focus of his biography, but there is another story about the working, family man that needs to be told along side the more sensational narrative.

At the opening of your talk, you gestured to the artistic and political communities beyond punk whose work gets documented by the Downtown Collection—especially the ephemeral traces and performative strategies of radical feminist and queer artistic activism.  What other material traces from other New York-area communities, movements or networks lurk in the collection? 

There are many other communities documented in the Downtown Collection. One very important one is artists’ collectives. SoHo was the breeding ground for artists who were trying to break the cycle of the commodity art world. By working together as collectives, groups such as the A.I.R. Gallery, Group Material, RepoHistory, Godzilla, and Artists Space created new possibilities for artistic production and display. Similarly, experimental theater collections such as Richard Foreman’s and John Vaccaro’s papers, and the archives of Mabou Mines, Eye and Ear Theater, Ohio Theater, Ubu Reporatory Theater, and Split Britches provide a window into downtown theater. Another subspecialty is public art. Such collections as Judson Memorial Church, Public Art Fund, Joyce Pomeroy Schwarz, and Creative Time reflect this community. Artists who use media make up another category with collections like Guerilla TV, Jaime Davidovich, Paper Tiger, and Deep Dish Television. Queer communities are represented by papers of Jay Blotcher, Alan Klein, Bill Bytsura, Lee Snider, Fred McDarragh, Frank Moore, Dennis Cooper, David Wojnarowicz, Gary Indiana, David Trinidad, Tim Dlugos, the Gay Cable Network archives, and many others. AIDS decimated the downtown scene.  Many of our collections reflect this devastation. Similarly, topics such as gentrification, drug abuse, sex work, police brutality, homelessness, performance art, experimental poetry and fiction, experimental music, installation art, postmodern dance, experimental film and video, and a variety of others are found in the collection. All of these areas have been collected intentionally to show the wide, overlapping, and cacophonous mess that was the Downtown Scene.

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Our Friday afternoon playlist comes from Jenn Pelly, a Brooklyn-based music writer and recent NYU grad in English and journalism. Her music writing, often about the current BK DIY scene, has appeared on Altered Zones, Thought Catalog, and elsewhere and she maintains the weblog Pelly Twins with her sister Liz, who writes about music for the Boston Phoenix. Jenn is a WNYU alum (though she’ll host the New Afternoon Show through this summer) and is also a veteran of #wny11 and the first run of my Downtown Scenes course last summer. Follow her on Twitter @jennpelly.

NYC mixtape

This mixtape is half all-time favorites and half contemporary locals, which to me totally exude “New York.” I left off many of my actual favorites for the sake of avoiding the obvious and out-of-place, but these songs are all steeped in my memories of bumming around the East Village in high school and floating around today’s Brooklyn DIY scene. Download the entire thing right here, or stream Side B below.

A –
1. Eric B. and Rakim – I Know You Got Soul
2. Blondie – Fan Mail
3. Bob Dylan – Talkin’ New York
4. Arthur Russell – That’s Us/Wild Combination
5. Sonic Youth – Bubblegum
6. Swans – God Damn the Sun (Live at WNYU 1987)
7. Richard Hell & the Voidoids – Blank Generation
8. Suicide – Rocket USA
9. Shangri-Las – Leader of the Pack
10. Jeff Buckley – Je N’en Connais Pas La Fin [

B –
1. La Big Vic – FAO
2. Widowspeak – Harsh Realm
3. Crystal Stilts – Crystal Stilts
4. The Babies – Meet me in the City
5. Holy Ghost! – Wait and See
6. Woods – September with Pete
7. Black Dice – Glazin’
8. Vivian Girls – Damaged
9. Coasting – Coasting
10. Juliana Barwick – Choose

jp’s pwhny guest playlist – side b by jennpelly

Side A kicks off with one of my favorite tracks from Eric B. and Rakim, who, like me, were transplanted from Long Island to E. 4th and Broadway. I can remember exactly where I was the first time I heard the smooth, golden beats and scratches of Paid In Full: the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts near Lincoln Center, reading about the album in a dusty, faded SPIN back issue. I’d been living in the city for just a year, and “It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at” was exactly what I needed to hear as I dealt with my morphing New York identity. Another highlight here is a live recording of Swans playing “God Damn the Sun” live on WNYU, July 1987—in the last ten seconds, catch Gira thanking Hilly Kristal for “doing what he’s done for us at CBGB’s.”

01 Swans on WNYU 07 20 1987 by jennpelly

I tried to avoid the obvious, but I couldn’t help including a few. Blondie, Richard Hell, and especially Jeff Buckley are, for me, the musical equivalent of that part of Joan Didion’s essay “Goodbye to All That” where she talks about what New York was like for her “before she knew the names of all the bridges,” when everything was still exotic and unfamiliar. They remind me of my romanticized 15-year-old notions of the city.

What I love most about this playlist is how traces of Side A can be found all over Side B; when I took Bryan’s “Downtown Scenes” class last summer, I couldn’t help consistently drawing parallels to New York’s underground music culture today. If you’re into music, nothing’s more enthralling than your own times. At least when you’re 21 in a place like New York.

Starting up Side B is “FAO” from retrofuturistic Brooklyn band LA BIG VIC, which includes New York native Emilie Friedlander on vox/violin, guitarist Toshio Masuda of Osaka, and synthesist Peter Pearson. Emilie is editor of two music websites, Altered Zones and Visitation Rites; Toshio previously performed in a major label J-Pop boy band; and Peter is an apprentice to Pink Floyd’s former live sound producer, Jeff Blenkinsopp. They’re the type of band that could have only formed in New York.

Also of note here is “September with Pete” from Woods, whose place at the center of the Woodsist label makes them poster-children for my generation’s NY music culture. (Not to mention that, at the drummer’s recording studio, Rear House, sessions “usually start with a conversation about the first Ramones record.”) I love the sense of community that seems to circle Woodsist, the cultural importance of which I first felt in ’09 at the inaugural Woodsist/Captured Tracks festival. “September with Pete” also features Pete Nolan of Woodsist band Spectre Folk.

Repping the Captured Tracks camp here is the young band Widowspeak, whose debut “Harsh Realm” 7” is like a more magnetic Mazzy Star. Where indie rock and pop is concerned, Side B has also got The Babies, Vivian Girls, and Coasting. Coasting is Madison Farmer (of Dream Diary) and New Zealand-transplant Fiona Campbell (drummer for Vivian Girls), who met while working at DIY shows in Brooklyn.

On the slicker side of the spectrum is Holy Ghost!, a disco-inspired duo of Manhattan natives who take more than a few cues from New York scenes of the 70s and early 80s. Their debut LP was released this year on James Murphy’s label, DFA — who also released early LPs from the experimental electronic group Black Dice. I like to think of my life’s milestones in terms of live music events, and seeing Black Dice (who grace Side B with 2009’s “Glazin”) at Bushwick venue Market Hotel in 2008 certainly makes the cut. I was 18 and living on the Upper West Side, and it was my first time at Market Hotel; I had no idea where I was, and the kids at the shows were all so hip, they looked like aliens to me.

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The annual HOWL! FESTIVAL kicks off today in the East Village.

Opening day, this year, coincides with the 85th anniversary of Ginsberg’s birth. Per tradition, the poet Bob Holman will lead a group reading of Howl with a cast of friends and fellow poets. From the website:

Each year we commence the open air festivities in NYC’s Tompkins Square Park with a group reading of Allen’s ground-breaking 1956 poem, HOWL, just before dusk, conducted in a symphonic manner by Bowery Poetry Club mastermind, Bob Holman. The line up of poets lending their voices to bringing Howl to life this year (in no particular order) include: Darian Dauchan, Alice Whitwham, Nicole Wallace, Curtis Jensen, Julie Patton, Fay Chiang, Miguel Algarin, Andy Clausen, Eliot Katz, Bob Rosenthal, David Henderson, John Giorno, Hettie Jones, Steven Taylor, Ed Sanders, sick prose, Elisabeth Velasquez, Helena D. Lewis, Eliel Lucero, Nikhil Melnechuk, & Jon Sands.

I plan to be there with my undergrad Downtown Scenes class. (It’s our final day today; we opened the course with Howl, so this seems a fitting way to close.)

As much as I look forward to the reading, I think I’d rather listen to Patti Smith read Ginsberg than just about anyone else but Ginsberg. Here she is with Philip Glass reading Ginsberg’s “On the Cremation of Chogyam Trungpa Vidyadhara” (1987) at a memorial for Ginsberg. From Dream of Life:

That spittle at 2:50 is, I think, one of the most moving moments in the history of punk performance.

I also like her piece “Spell,” which incorporates G’s Footnote to Howl:

The same piece as included in Dream of Life:

Follow the Howl! Festival on Twitter. Follow @HowlTweeter too.

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At a loss for time is more like it. My teaching schedule today prevents me from posting, but stay tuned: We have some special pre-33 1/3 release posts on their way.

Meantime, here’s a teaser for the material my Downtown Scenes class is dealing with today:

Previously on PWHNY. And. Plus.

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Reblogged from the excellent Dangerous Minds — the BBC4 documentary Once Upon a Time in New York: The Birth of Hip Hop, Disco, & Punk (2007):

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This one goes out to my Downtown Scenes class, who’re discussing Forced Entries later today. You’ve all seen the terrific Jim Carroll site, Catholic Boy, right?

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My undergrad course (Downtown Scenes) is reading material on and from Yoko Ono, John Cage, and others for this afternoon. We’ll be talking about conceptualism, minimalism, Fluxus, Happenings, and the like. Here’s the hillbilly minimalist and philosopher Henry Flynt recalling his introduction to the proto-Fluxus performances at Yoko Ono’s loft, a series curated by the composer La Monte Young. He has quite a bit to say about Young, John Cage, Nam June Paik, the downtown scene in general, and the place of the avant garde in the late 20th century.

You’ll find several other “Henry Flynt in New York” pieces on YouTube. Flynt pops up later in our course when Arthur Russell invites him to perform at the Kitchen in the ’70s.

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